Monday, July 11, 2022

War of the Imperial Succession: Battle of Blenderheim


Shortly after sunrise, 15th May, 1740, the army of Altmark-Uberheim rolled forward, all along the line, splashing through the muddy little Schweinenbach stream.  Infantry Regiments 1 and 10, supported by a gun battery, made directly for the Blenderheim village, whilst to their right, 4th Infantry found themselves advancing under the guns of a battery placed alongside the village.  

In the centre, the lines of 2nd Infantry, nearer Blenderheim, and 15th Garde to their right, pushed forward in lines of battle.  In the interval between them, the Dragoons Kalkreuth trotted in column of squadrons, directly towards the section of howitzers that stood between the two infantry regiments that formed the Hessian line.  Behind 2nd Infantry, the columns of hussars and cuirassiers followed up in support.  The remaining Uberheim horse, 1st Cuirassiers, advanced in the interval between the centre lines, and the two regiments tasked with the storming of Histerglau.

Rather than attempt to storm the place in columns, as on the other flank, and as there seemed sufficient room so to deploy, the 18th (Prinz von Uberheim) and 25th (Ramin) Infantry, with a battery in support, advanced in line.  There being not quite enough room, however, the 18th formed a double line, whilst the 25th extended its right to envelop the north face of the town.  Even then, there remained enough frontage for but one section of the supporting artillery to deploy.

Just as they crossed the stream, the grenadier companies leading the columns against Blenderheim came in for an effective and telling musketry.  The stream crossing tended to slow the column down, a great aid to the Zeitgeist Infantry garrison.  

Set a little back from the flanking villages, the Hessian infantry were out of musketry range of the stream, which enabled the Uberheim infantry to cross under mid-range cannon fire only.  However, 'A' Battery and the howitzer tended to concentrate their fire upon the 2nd (von Kanitz).  In response, the Red Dragoons of von Kalkreuth hastened their forward push in the hope of overrunning the howitzer and the section of battalion guns alongside.  Unfortunately for the attackers in this sector, there was nowhere to deploy their guns.  They had to advance without their support.

It would probably have been better to have kept the Kanitz and Garde infantry in column of companies, which would have given the scope for the artillery to deploy, and enable the cavalry to operate more freely and effectively.  But that is hindsight talking.  I was expecting the villages to fall fairly quickly, before the centre lines closed.  

First Cuirassiers were ordered to carry the Hessian gun line deployed alongside the Histerglau village.  In the columnar formation, they took a fair bit of damage from the Hessian artillery, and more from flanking musketry from the village, but there was no stopping them. On they went into and over the guns, putting almost the entire battery to the sword. 

Thus encouraged, the centre lines surged on, shrugging off their losses - fairly inconsiderable so far.  The fighting around Blenderheim was proving rather more costly to the attackers, their grenadier companies devastated, as they struggled to reach the village walls.  The supporting gunfire from across the stream, though not without some effect, was barely noticed by the garrison, or the guns near by.

The Hessian left flank battery overrun, it was the turn of the howitzer section to receive the attentions of Uberheim cavalry. The dragoons' charge took it through the Erbprinz Grenadiers' battalion gun section as well.  Overrunning nearly half of the Hessian artillery, though dearly bought successes, served to render the Uberhein advances in the centre a deal less hazardous for the more slow-moving infantry lines.  As is was, the Garde had had to traverse a rather more difficult length of the stream (where were the bendier bits), and the delay set them echeloned rather back from the 2nd Infantry to their left.   

So matters stood as the firefight for Hinterglau developed on the Hessian left.  

A few things I ought to mention here. 

First, the built up area is defined by a 'footprint' made from card to which has been adhered cobblestone-printed paper.  The houses, walls and such are placed, but not fixed, upon the profile to give the look of a fairly substantial settlement, and may be moved aside to accommodate a garrison.

Second, I allow all troops that can be accommodated in a line of 2 ranks without overlap to defend a given face of the town.  The assumption is that if 'in real life' the buildings and assorted 'urban clutter' prevented half or more of the garrison from presenting a firearm, those that could not would be employed in reloading , with hardly a reduction in the garrison's available rate of fire. 

It so happened that the east face of Histerglau could accommodate the garrison, though the battalion gun was turned to face the Ramin Infantry companies that were overlapping and wrapping around the north face.   Although the Weltschmerz Infantry were handing out a considerable punishment to their assailants, the incoming was no less damaging.  For one thing, the battalion gun crew did not last long in their unequal fight against two whole companies of assailants. 

The grim struggle for Blenderheim was continuing without the attackers being able quickly to close. The open column of companies had the effect of the attack coming in waves, the leading grenadiers being caught up and carried on by the successive musketeer companies.  The attackers were only gradually edging closer, as losses mounted.

Meanwhile, on the right, the 1st Cuirassiers having succeeded in wiping out A Battery, rallied back and reformed close by the stream.  It was a much reduced regiment that once more faced the enemy there.  The Garde Regiment was still under fire from the Ewige-Blumenkraft battalion guns, but was able to continue its advance.

Such was the picture perhaps an hour into the battle.  Then at last the assault upon Blenderheim reached its climax as the two Uberheim regiments closed upon the place, and a close combat developed in the village outskirts.  

At the same time, 4th Infantry were finding advancing under the Hessian guns too formidable a task. Safe, then, in the security of their right flank, and impatient for action, Erbprinz Grenadiers advanced a  few paces to face off against the 2nd (von Kanitz) Infantry.  With the mass of cavalry following up the Uberheim line, the Grenadiers hoped by this move to hold up the whole enemy advance in this sector.
It was to be a harrowing experience for 2nd Infantry. The firefight was brief, and to the point. The superior training of the grenadiers shredded the Uberheim infantry, dropping its colonel as well as more than half the regiment, whereat the remainder broke, and routed across the stream.  

That success was to come at the cost of releasing two Uberheim cavalry regiments for the charge....

The pressure was also mounting against the Histerglau garrison on the Hessian left. The attackers' firing lined pressed ever closer to the village outskirts. Prinz von Uberheim's regiment was able, too, to extend their line to the left, across the whole eastern edge of the place. As yet, though, the defenders remained disinclined to abandon the place they had been ordered to hold.

The 2nd Infantry having disappeared into a rout of fugitives, there was nothing to impede the Prittwitz Cuirassiers on the right and the Black Hussars on the left to charge home upon the Grenadiers. There was no question of forming square - there was no time.  

The foot's musketry emptied many a saddle before the horse could close, but then the latter were in amongst the grenadiers' line with sword, sabre and pistol.  The close quarter scrum, short but desperate, ended with the grenadiers breaking. Like their former adversaries of von Kanitz, they fled to the rear.  The Uberheimers had at last broken through the Hessian line. 

 But it was only the first line. Behind it awaited the second. The Uberheim horse disdained to pursue,  The job but half-done, they rallied and reformed for a combat that must soon be resumed.

The close combat at Blenderheim had by this time yet to be resolved. But as the the columns closed up, the added numbers could not but prevail over the rapidly thinning ranks of the garrison. Somewhat surprisingly, though, the latter's battalion gun section was still in action. The columns had masked their supporting battery, but no detachment had been detailed to eliminate it.  

In the left centre, the victorious Uberheim cavalry, cuirassiers and dragoons, the latter somewhat depleted after the fight over the howitzers, reformed in line to face what lay to their front.  Behind the fleeing grenadiers was a rise, and upon that rise was the hitherto unengaged Reichswacht zu Pferde, Hessen-Rohr's elite cavalry.  

What had happened to the Black Hussars, meanwhile?  Having driven back the grenadiers, they had come under devastating canister fire from the nearby Hessian gun battery. The surviving hussars had hastily departed the scene for the far bank of the Schweinenbach. 

To the right of the reforming heavy horse, at last the Garde were engaging the Ewige-Blumenkraft Infantry in a firefight that promised to be as unequal as that between the Erbprinz Grenadiers and von Kanitz Infantry.

That musketry duel was just beginning as the Reichswacht zu Pferde descended from their ridge, and drove into the Uberheim heavies.  The latter, somewhat reduced by their earlier exertions, staunchly met the assault.  The unengaged dragoons might have been drawn into the fight, but before they could intervene, their heavier comrades had broken and were in flight.  

Themselves outnumbered by the enemy horse, the Dragoons gave as good as they got in the ensuing melee. Within moments the clash of sword and popping of pistols petered out as both sides drew back, both still under command, to recuperate.   

To their right, the duel between the Garde and Ewige-Blumenkraft had been settled in favour of the former.  But not so one-sided.  Still in hand, the Ewige-Blumenkraft Infantry drew back, their faces to the enemy, only as far as the Blenderheim-Histerglau road.  But, somewhat ominously, the Uberheimers had at last brought up some artillery.  On the other hand, the Hessians still had the unengaged Leibgarde regiment in hand...

The battle was settled on the flanks.  The pressure upon Histerglau continuing unabated for a couple of hours, it was perhaps inevitable that the garrison's grip would eventually be loosened and yield. Abruptly abandoning the eastern face of the village, Weltschmerz Infantry fell back, still in good order, into the southwest quarter. Their assailants took the time to form into columns to enter the place. It was clear that Histerglau could no longer be held, let alone be recaptured.

No more could Blenderheim. True, before giving up their line, Zeitgeist Infantry had broken the columns of 10th Infantry. The effort had been too much. Falling back to the west end of the village, Zeitgeist held there for a time, but, the 1st Infantry following up in greater strength, would soon see the whole village in their hands.

Both villages lost, the line in between could have been untenable. Not for long. Marshal-General Graf Schwerin und Cussin at once ordered the army's withdrawal.  The battle was over.

There was no pursuit: the action could scarcely be called a victory for all that Altmark-Uberheim were left in possession of the field of battle.  The cavalry were exhausted, the infantry in scarce better shape.  In having unengaged his elite infantry and the Uhlans, the Marshal-General felt that his Hessians were in some respects better shape. 

In fact, the victory was something of a disaster for King Draco II.  The butcher's bill reported to him was appalling.  Even counting prisoners,  the Uberheim cost had been greater than that incurred by the enemy: about 1340 as against 1200 of which 300 had to be accommodated as wounded and unwounded POWs*.  Against that loss, though, his army could claim the capture of 9 field and 4 battalion pieces of ordnance (5 models altogether) - something at least to show for the battle.

The fact remained, however, that his schemes had suffered a serious setback, and he now had a hostile power in his rear should he wish to carry on his projects against the Empire.

* A word on losses.  For campaign purposes, battlefield losses refers to men not under command and for the moment unaccounted for.  Many of these might well be stragglers or lightly injured who return to the colours overnight.  Some might be picked up by an enemy left in possession of the field.  The army of Hessen-Rohr had 91 figures lost by the end of the day, and 3 field and 2 battalion pieces overrun or abandoned.  Out of 250 figures, that's quite a lot.  

Having been driven from the field, one half of these (rounded) count as dead and wounded (permanently lost), and a further sixth captured (45 + 15 = 60 => 1200).

The Army of Altmark-Uberheim lost 134(!) figures.  Half of these count as killed or wounded, the other half return to the colours overnight.  Sixty-seven figures lost from an army of 363 was not to be sneezed at.

Hearing the news in his palace just outside Schloss-Brandenburg, King Draco II at once put on hold his project to carve up the Empire, and set in motion a vigorous recruitment programme.  For his part, the Markgraf in Eggsburg also began to look to recruiting his army's strength.

To be continued... maybe? 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

War of the Imperial Succession - A Prologue...

The army of Altmark-Uberheim about to cross
the Schweinenbach stream and try conclusions
with Hessen-Rohr.
In the Year of Our Lord 1740, the long reign of the Emperor Violoncello VI came to an end. Without male issue, and for decades already knowing there was no prospect of any, the Emperor had had recourse to threats and blackmail on top of other blandishments to have the Electorate confirm his elder daughter, Archduchess Harmonica as head of the Imperium of Trockenbeeren-Auslese. Just how much trust he really could place in that august school of electors was perhaps exposed in the sequel: not such as he had hoped. However theoretical, the Lex Salica proved a more difficult hurdle to leap than even he had supposed.  His 'Prudential Sanction' did not suffice.
A rough political map of central Europeia

The Elector with the most clout happened to be the soi-disant King of Altmark-Uberheim, Draco II, of the House Spitzensparken, notorious for acquisitive ambition and covetous eyes cast upon the Imperial diadem. His marriage overtures to the Archduchess Harmonica rebuffed, he plotted to acquire by other means that much desired ornamentation to his brow. His honeyed communications with the Emperor whilst the latter was alive hid the more sinister machinations with the other electors, ecclesiastic and secular, that were to secure at least half the vote. The one he most relied upon, but failed to gain, was that of the Bishop Cornelius of Ulrichstein, the most prestigious of the ecclesiastic princes. This bishop had good reason for gratitude towards the Emperor, which the Archduchess inherited (for the narrative explaining this, see Ulrichstein Campaign).
The armies arrayed as for battle.

The matter remaining unresolved to Draco's satisfaction - a tied election was no use to him with the Archduchess already installed - he steeled himself to obtain by force what he could by no alternative means. Suasion, blackmail, threats - none had availed. However, he did have at least one, possibly two, other potentates, not themselves Electors, who had reasons of their own to harbour malice aforethought against the Empire. The chief of these was the choleric Grand Duke Constantine of M'yasma, who made up in bellicosity what he lacked in patient diplomacy. There were certain lands he desired that would make a fine addition to his realm - why, he might even aspire to a kingdom!  
Prinz von Uberheim (18th) and Ramin (25th) 
Infantry facing Histerglau village.
To realise that ambition, however, he had to secure the neutrality of Ursaminor, known to have strong ties with the Empire. The Emperor's avuncular regard for the young Princess might merely have been due to a distant blood relationship, but it also stemmed from the many wolfish eyes cast upon the Unstroll river valley that made up most of the Principality. Violoncello had informally taken the role of guarantor of Ursaminor, and Harmonica made her business to confirm - even to formalise - that stance by treaty. Of course, the Principality's arch-rival for the sea-going trade at that end of the Saltic Sea, The Landgravate of Jotun-Erbsten, had certain claims upon the lands of Ursaminor that very shortly before had led to a brief war (see here: War of Imperial Succession - Prologue). The post-battle negotiations were still ongoing as King Draco himself let slip the dogs of war.
The Garde (15th) and 1st Cuirassiers ...
Before making any such declaration against the Imperium itself, Draco sought first to secure his northwestern flank. Perhaps with less candour, and more tactful circumlocution in respect of his intentions he might have neutralised the border with Hessen-Rohr. His diplomatic overtures foundered upon the Markgraf George-Frederick's friendship with the Empire, his having some romantic notions of his own concerning its as yet unmarried head of state, and his apprehension that a state of war throughout this part of Europeia would impact upon his trade. He had, after all, his maritime rival, the Herzogtum von Rechburg to worry about. That Dukedom was much better placed to profit from the interruptions to trade to the east.
Garde and guns...
After a week of dulcet wrangling in Eggsburg, Draco instructed his ambassador by messenger to cut short the talks, issue an ultimatum, and, an answer not forthcoming, to declare to his interlocutors that a state of war existed between Altmark-Uberheim and Hessen-Rohr. 
Massed cavalry behind 2nd (von Kanitz) Infantry,
with its distinctive black flag.

Both sides hastened their military preparations. Not one to pin his hopes upon one hound, the King had already begun preparations, and therefore rather a lead, but had at the same time, more to accomplish. Nevertheless, he had a considerable army assembled under his younger brother, Prinz Rupprecht, and across the border just as George-Frederick's Marshal, Graf Schwerin und Cussin was still gathering his power. Some miles beyond the border, advancing down the right bank of the Elbow River, the invading army encountered the forces of Hessen-Rohr, arrayed along a shallow creek, Schweinenbach, at the villages of Blenderheim and Histerglau. 
1st, 10th and 4th Infantry, in company columns supported by
artillery, about to storm Blenderheim. 

Clearly the Marshal intended to make a fight of it. The position was a strong one, a species of defile between the major waterway of the Elbow, and some awkward bosky country north beyond the Histerglau village. Confident in his superior numbers, the Prince drew up his army along the Schweinbach Stream. His plan: to mask or storm the villages in strength, to unhinge the Hessian flanks, whilst placing heavy pressure upon the lines between.  
Blenderheim garrison - Zeitgeist Infantry.

The Count placed in both villages a regiment of line infantry, together with their battalion guns. Between them, he drew up his three remaining infantry regiments. Two, together with the two and a half artillery batteries formed a line between them, with the footguards and the cavalry in support. The Markgrave's Army comprised:

Army of Hessen-Rohr

Command: Marshal-General Graf Albrecht von Schwerin und Cussin and his ADC 
Leibgarde Regiment - 38 figures plus battalion gun
Erbprinz Grenadiers - 38  figures plus battalion gun
Ewige-Blumenkraft Infantry - 38 figures plus battalion gun
Zeitgeist Infantry - 38 figures plus battalion gun
Weltschmerz Infantry - 38 figures plus battalion gun
Reichswacht zu Pferde - 19 figures
Uhlans Schadenfreude - 19 figures
Battery A/ 1st Artillery Regiment - 9 figures, 2 field guns
Battery B/ 1st Artillery Regiment  - 9 figures, 2 field guns
Howitzer Section/ 1st Artillery Regiment - 4 figures, 1 field howitzer.

Total: 250 figures (190 foot {including battalion gunners}, 38 horse, 22 artillerymen, 10 cannon (light and field).

The infantry regiments comprise 1x8-figure company of grenadiers, 3x8-figure companies of line infantry, 2 gunners with a light battalion gun, and a 4-figure command element (Colonel, subaltern, drummer and colour bearer).

The cavalry comprise 2x8-figure squadrons, plus a 3-figure command (Colonel, guidon and bugler)
A gun battery comprised 2 sections of 1 gun apiece with 4 crew, the whole battery commanded by a single officer. 
At one figure representing 20 men, this all represents an army of 5000 men, with perhaps 30 cannon, field and light. 

Erbprinz Grenadiers and artillery.  The Reichswacht 
cavalry in support.
The invaders were in much greater numbers, as might be expected:

Army of Altmark-Uberheim

Command: Prince Rupprecht von Spitzensparken plus ADC
1st (Winterfeldt) Infantry - 36 figures
2nd (von Kanitz) Infantry - 36 figures
4th (von Kalnein) Infantry - 36 figures
10th (Knoblach) Infantry - 36 figures
15th (Garde) Infantry - 44 figures
18th (Prinz von Uberheim) Infantry - 36 figures
25th (Ramin) Infantry - 36 figures
1st Cuirassiers - 19 figures
2nd (von Prittwitz) Cuirassiers - 19 figures
4th (Kalkreuth) Dragoons - 19 figures
5th (von Ruesch 'Black') Hussars - 19 figures
3 Companies, Altmark Artillery - 27 figures, 6 field cannon.

Totals: 363 figures (260 foot, 76 horse, 27 artillery), 6 cannon

All arms are organised in the same manner as the Hessian, minus the battalion guns.  The 'Garde' Infantry comprise 4 musketeer companies of 10 figures each, with no grenadiers.

At one figure representing 20 men, this army amounts to 7260 officers and men, with 24 field cannon.
Ewige-Blumenkraft Infantry, with a section of
howitzers in support.   

Garrison of Histerglau: Weltschmerz Infantry

The battle begins - Assault upon Blenderheim.

 A note on the figures.

These are all plastics, from a variety of manufacturers. The Hessian infantry are all Airfix, from the Washington's Army and British Grenadier boxes. The cavalry are Italieri (I think, cuirassiers), and ESCI (Uhlans). The gunners are Airfix Royal horse artillery, the field pieces ESCI, and the battalion guns Airfix Napoleonic French.

The infantry of Altmark-Uberheim are all from the Revell 7YW Prussian set. These fellows actually painted up very nicely. Just to show how inconsistent I can be, the cavalry are all Airfix, the heavies with modified headgear from the less useful figures from the Washington's Army box. One unit is simply cuirassiers painted up without armour, as dragoons. The gunners are Revell, I think, and the cannon Airfix Napoleonic British.  

To be continued: the Battle of Blenderheim.